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#464210 - 04/17/14 12:04 PM
O) Unto Caeser
Loc: American South
Swan river flows along a path never intended for human feet. A larger river, two hundred miles long, called “French,” is what Swan leads to. Ground is first broke in the eighteenth century along Christian Creek, a tributary of Swan river by David, a soldier redeeming a land grant at the point where the water “English” and the water “French” meet.
The forest kills the soldier. There are rumors of humans – not of Christ, but of Nature instead. On foot, the soldier's wife, children, and female slave flee sixteen miles to the nearest Christian fort. The soldier's brother and his sister's husband return for justice and the corpse. Months pass in the forest. The wife, children, and female slave return, and the extended family arrive to settle at the mouth of Bee Tree.
War breaks. Union forces are pushed away to the north by a platoon of mostly locals.
Union forces return.
On October second, eighteen eighty, a railroad reaches the city of Ashe. On November twentieth, nineteen thirty, eight of the nine local banks fail. Only Wachovia remains due to infusions of cash from other sources. Though Ashe owes fifty million due to the building of roads and buildings, Ashe refuses to default, then remains impoverished. Everything is properly preserved for fifty years before the debt is finally paid.
“Even a class A,” the store manager says, interviewing me in the newspaper, books, and magazine section of a coffee house surrounded by a grocery store.
The grocery serves an old mill town, one that Ashe's downtown bumped into as the city grew. An expansive, man-made lake separates them. Neighborhood names such as Martel Village and Company Bottom allude to manufacturing industries once here. Only ten square miles in size, one being the French River flowing by on the western side, about three-thousand people live here. Almost no one makes over thirty-thousand dollars a year; most make around twenty. The town is named after the fourth of twelve children of a wealthy farmer. He became a local lawyer and statesman who acquired extensive land in the French Basin and owned the most number of slaves in the county by 1860: one hundred and twenty-two. His holdings at the time were listed as one-hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars. By 1870 his assets only added up to thirty-six thousand. His younger brother did not survive the war. All his adult life, he worked to make the region more prosperous, advocating and encouraging the production of tobacco and dairy, increasing the quality in schools, and fighting for the railroad despite hurdles of corruption that sent him to London to confront Milton S. Littlefield, the president of the Western Carolina Railroad Company, who had fled there.
“Of course I cannot compete with your previous salary,” he says.
“No, of course.”
“... No, the house is on the line where the two properties meet ...” says a woman reaching up for ricotta cheese.
Despite the high-turnover rate, most employees have worked here at least a decade. I only have four actual coworkers. We are called the Milk Men.
“ … The two families came home from church,” she's saying to someone. “The brothers and the father of the one family then murder the brothers and the father of the other family ...”
I work mostly on my own but for Wally, a likable, jolly oddity with gray hair and glasses. He's worked here twenty-seven years, working a part time job in fast food to make ends meet. This shift works three sections: milk, eggs, and juice, in that order of importance, each section taking an hour or two of work. Other sections are only done once a day each. Working on the floor at a grocery store of a recently-small mountain town will make you want to stop drinking the water, but it's something to be surrounded by such literate folks.
“ … Then they come back to dinner. The house is where the sister lived. After dinner they killed the last brother, her husband.”
“You know me?” whispers Cooke. “'Cause I know you.”
She's November's daughter, married to a graduate from Rustic. She makes little secret she goes to meetings and lives by the twelve steps, and can recognize any substance in the system of anybody by nothing else but their eyes. She runs the kitchen of the store's Deli and introduces me to Butcher, who works on the other side of the store, behind a counter of select cuts. He's an old Vietnam combat medic renowned for painting local scenes on canvas. He tells jokes like he's Roger Dangerfield secretly desperate to teach life's most important, vulgar secrets. Later she introduces me to Gardner, another Vietnam vet, surrounded by bins of produce in the third corner of the store who likes to talk politics and is one of the few who can throw verbal barbs with Cooke. He stands short and wiry and moves with a unique walk from all them road marches.
“It's not their fought only us old people can tell the difference between journalism and production journalism,” he tells me with a casual sense of humor as he shows me his bin of lush, blood red apples.
“In the end it won't matter whose to blame,” I reply.
He explains the world as incestuous, same as insider trading, media, and synergy. He claims there is no such thing as journalism or literature; nothing but telemarketers in another form. For him it is self-evident that the educated are the uneducated, the powerful the weak, the poor the wealthy, the high-class the classless and the American economy little more than a pyramid scheme. "Hence the housing crash."
“All journalism in America is inherently corrupt … “ I ask him lowly, refusing to believe while he looks surprised someone-already-old-enough-to-vote didn't know that already.
“Beeeeeeen,” Cooke laughs rich and melodic. “Where you been?”
Larke, a twenty-one-year-old, works nights in Video: “He graduated high school in two-thousand six and went straight into the Marines,” he says with his sophisticated airs. “In the winter of two thousand seven we showed up for his graduation at Paris Island, South Carolina. I busted my hand in with the lid of the trunk of our car … I stood there for a long time with it closed and my hand crushed because I didn't want to break my fingers. They took me to the Military hospital and I was refused treatment because I was civilian. My brother had been promoted to Lance Corporal and we thought he'd be promoted again at graduation but instead they gave it to some fat chick who had been recycled three times – she had more time in service. My brother was the platoon – or whatever – leader throughout boot camp because he was that kind of guy, a good worker, then staying up til four and five in the morning to return letters. He would be fired from his position regularly – usually in time for the weekend, when they would give it to someone else for awhile, but by Monday he had it again. I remember him giving me a tour of the barracks and another graduating Marine was there. A Drill Instructor stepped in and the Marine kept referring to himself as “This recruit.” The Drill Instructor had to tell him he was graduated now. It scared me, him being brainwashed like that."
The harsh, beautiful girl runs the mid-level bureaucracy of the school in a building of waiting rooms. Where professors, deans, and department heads are not required, she is, to a population of students who truly believe. There are posters of “cool” nerds, and “jock” computer analysts throughout the school, even billboards out on the highway implying that those in school have made a conscious choice to be an American with a future.
While taking the school's placement exams, it took me an extra hour and a half. The harsh, beautiful girl kept standing outside the glass room of computers, looking in with an expression of concern on her face.
I run into her at the downtown library, where the homeless pretend to be studious while Ashe's newest arrivals use the internet. She has moved here. She still moves wispy and breeze-like, rebellious in secular cloths, slowly turning as if she were only avoiding bookshelves and study-tables not because they were in her way but out of a certain Mother-Earth's politeness.
“Not because of you,” she says quietly as her fingers trail the book bindings of the library shelves. “Work. I didn't know you had set up here.”
“I can't remember what it was that you did.”
She gives me a look.
“You're good at it,” she says softly. “Running into people.”
Montana is an obvious burner – promotion-wise.
“You're too young to be this much of a mess,” I tell him as he he clocks in, pulls his blood red uniform over an undershirt, then tucks into khaki's.
“He likes you,” the night manager says later. “He said it was like talking to a dictionary.”
“Yeah, I like him a lot.”
She was born and raised here, survived the elementary and high schools and conformed well to magazines. Her eyes remind me of Kenley, as if Ashe was once a rural town I used be some sort of foster kid at.
"He has a temper," she says.
She also works across the street from the grocery at an Italian Restaurant, different because it is all from scratch, but good. Somehow everyone knows my name but I already knew them before I realized she worked here. They have a familial environment like they wish to be a home for art.
“Don't fall asleep at that bar,” she says as she wipes tables against the large French doors open to the street.
I awaken, not realizing I was watching her. She had paused a moment and looked out the doors into the lights, buildings, and concrete, a tray held up in the flat of her hand.
“You almost looked Italian, there.” I reply.
“What does that mean?” she says.
“I got my G-E-D after I got back.”
“How'd you join the military,” Montana asks as he finishes pushing a row of four carts into a line with the rest of them. The night is damp, but not cold as he studies me. Sometimes he seemed to wonder how I could possibly be standing here in front of him. I told him I used to try to figure people out, then found out too late, deep down, we were all the same. Montana pulls one cart aside, saving it to put full trash bags in as he empties the cans in front of the grocery.
“At first they didn't accept what I'd been using as documents to get by,” I finally answer. “The recruiter rejected the paperwork. I had to find a – what is it called, those people who make documents official – a notary – who would stamp it.”
"Kinda cool, though."
“I live at the vet house,” I tell Cooke as I pull the heaviest of her trays out of the standing oven. “Southwest of the big house.” Cornbread in the shape of muffins, jalapeno and cheddar already mixed in the dough, cast iron so heavy I wonder Cooke's small frame and scar-less brown-hued skin.
“That ain't the vet house,” she says with a laugh from the kitchen's island where she prepares pies of Gardner's apples. Everything I don't know makes her eyes sparkle, like she's pleasantly surprised. “Hope you don't hate women,” she says.
"Choosin morality over women can't be the worst thing in the world.”
She laughs heartily as she washes her hands and fixes me a plate, then darts her eyes at the cash register reminding to pay my five dollars to the new kid. Back in the kitchen I compliment her food between bites, standing in the doorway of the Deli's make-shift office, while she tells me, “Yeah, you'll be alright at the vet house.”
In the chow hall of Rustic, a film plays to no one.
Antony Hopkins must hint toward his employer's soon-to-be-married, but father-less, godson that sex exists.
“With the arrival of spring . . . ” Antony Hopkins says to Hugh Grant. “We shall see a remarkable and profound change in all surroundings.”
Inside the girl's dormitory Magic Mike plays on the television as I await paperwork for Brock, one them good ol' boys who inherited something either discredited or stolen from me or neither. Once when we were preppies, we lost the group when we discovered the valley of the five train tunnels, and climbed two mountains to find and reach them again. So far we rarely if ever speak to each other: both of us knowing we have that little in common. He is all natural, incapable of wrongdoing, even after he has done enough wrong things to end up here. He looks like that guy from John Tucker Must Die, only Caucasian with deeply sage eyes. It was clear he had somehow lived his life without having to compete in the race to any extent like mine, he was already a winner, like Royal, one of SFC Denton's “killers.”
"How's your recovery going ... " he deadpanned on my third day and his fourth, as we cleaned the common areas of the barracks.
"'Still follow the original prescription," I told him abstractly as I wiped down the lids and sides of the washers and driers. "Letting anonymity allow a sense of safety and freedom at the same time. 'Kept having to murder my audience down though, and walk through shoes I used to find --"
He looks at me sheepishly. "--Is that one of the twelve steps?"
On Charlie Rose at some point, as I walk the aisles of the college library:
“... these families of artists," says some sort of director.
Must be something to be set against that black hole of written and unwritten history. On one side of the table is an imagery and symbolism only the individual viewer can see, on the other, another of Gardner's telemarketers.
"Incidentally creating … “
Though he is seventeen Montana keeps calling her his fiance. As we cashier and bag groceries I lecture him on the temple of marriage – it can only stand by way of two, equally powerful, separate columns. Her coming by the grocery is a rarity, so quick he points her out to me.
“Montana, that is not a wife, that's a teenage girl.”
“She's nineteen,” he says in defense.
Early as dawn is breaking, I half-sleep on my bag against the backseat of Rustic's sixteen passenger van. We are all on our way somewhere, but I do not mind being last because everyone allows me the back to sleep.
This time, one of my favorites here, River, drives while telling an angry story over classic rock. Again, a girl from the other dormitory has been caught trying to send him an unsolicited love letter.
River is obvious, classic, a dynamic storyteller because upon being confronted by the staff he took the opportunity not only to win, but stick up for others here concerning present “drama.”
He is everything an addict is supposed to be. Hence, they keep him around staff meetings. “Yeah, if I had known I had that much going for me," he is saying. "I would've tried harder.”
Brock and I sit in the van alone as River goes in to pay for fuel.
There are people on dates in and out of the station, on their way to parties or clubs. The guys wear purposely-name-brand attire. “Like they're wearing redneck 'costumes,'” I say.
Thirty seconds later Brock busts out laughing. “It is like they're wearing redneck costumes.”
“It's music he jammed while coming off of Lithium,” River is saying as he drives through the night. I sit shotgun.
“How're you here?” he asks me. The route has taken us into an area where there have been no cars coming either way but ours. River flicks the overheads regularly, as if to remember if they are on or off.
“I turned out to be someone else.”
We listen to the music a long time: a certain part of where the electric guitars sound organic, rough, bluesy.
“Maybe who you were intended to be is better than the one you wanted to be,” he says, accelerating onto the interstate.
“Your brainwashing is developing nicely.”
Inside Rustic's foyer, comfortable couches surround a large television, its low light directed away from the corner reception. Half-standing, Nerube motions from the counter and desk, then hands over the yellow phone.
It is Irby, from Second Platoon:
I look at the floor.
“College and work, work and college.”
“Oh, yeah. When'd you get out?”
“Been out one year, November.”
“Isn't it something to be out of the military?”
“Snowing under a clear sky?”
“That's the snow coming off the mountain peaks,” she says from a sip of her coffee cup, as we step out into Ashe's downtown.
The art-deco buildings with their ground-floor-store-fronts genuinely reflect the age their architecture implies, while looking impossibly-young against the blue mountains softly wafting harsh histories dating back before God first moved them. She's done a better job of becoming local than I have, an idea she has always found ridiculous.
“It'll be like this as long as there's wind.”
“I overheard Jacob telling Brock of some fledgling website you've been keeping up,” Nerube whispers in the smokers' gazebo over-looking the smoky valley while giving me his best, tell-me-everything smile.
Maybe the V.A. knew the whole time. Maybe everyone has. The work had to be moved from the first online support group because it ran out of money to operate, but the original readership still found me at this one and confirmed so. The readership remained anonymous for the most part and consisted of both genders and some adolescents. Due to their dangerous domestic situations they had to write ... well ... but there was also something else.
“Nerube,” I tell him. “It's a secret.”
(early morning, during a raid)
“No, it must've been a lucid dream,” I find myself saying to Brock. He stands in my open bedroom doorway, curious at me sitting up in bed.
"None of those people exist," he says with a breathy smile and that way he has of being all-knowing, genuine and pleasant. He makes you want to trade an intellect for whatever he has. Out in the hall, harsh arguments compete back and forth with the blunt movement of furniture.
"At best this house is haunted and at worst people are going to call you Skits."
Ashe is a small town, somehow, I see everyone I've already met at the grocery store, regular, though in a professional manner.
Rehab is a huge secret.
I navigate by making the van drop me off at the corner.
Meanwhile the mountain downtown is full of Christmas lights, carefully put up by Rustic every year, due to an agreement between Rustic and Ashe. As I step outside the grocery store and walk the side walks, we pretend not to know each other, all kind nods and hellos.
Though the night-manager and Larke and I have become close friends over regular midnight cigarettes, Larke wants to move to Chicago. “To learn comedy,” he says.
“Is that a thing ...”
Everything about him is a statement: from his brown professor's spectacles to his orange not-quite-moccasins. His reputation concerns his literary prowess and the fact that he will ask any girl out, anywhere, anytime. He changes his mind about pulling on his old fashioned tobacco pipe – a birthday gift from one of his several shockingly-wealthy, former schoolmates. In the store he will find them embarrassing because none of them have ever been in the work force and find our colorful language and conversation intolerable, mainly because none of it is store-bought or gleaned from magazines, current-literature, television shows, or movies. I once made the mistake of saying Ashe's best Italian restaurants are to be found in Ashe's mostly-Italian neighborhood. “You can live like this,” he says. “Because you know who you are.”
“It helps people,” I tell Nerube. He tries to wait for River's last run each night, so he can bum a cigarette from me.
“Nerube ... I have no idea.”
I failed an important course in school, Human Anatomy and Physiology, BIO168, so important to my field that I should take a full semester to learn it, the professor would have more to say, more questions would be asked by students. I'll have to pay for the course in cash because the Pell Grant does not cover failed classes. I have another prerequisite mini-mester starting in a few weeks: Sociology. My work friends are proud of me; they ask about school or how I did on such and such test. I lie and say, “Fine.” My friends at Rustic roll their eyes and laugh when I say I am struggling as if it were not possible: “So you're getting a ninety-eight instead of a hundred?”
Over the holidays I was surprised to be there, them surprised to see me. They call me “Seldom Seen.”
"Must've been something," Nerube is saying as we continue exchanging notes and joking in the smoker's gazebo. "To have an older sister tell you the only way the truth will get out is if you wrote a Jane Austen." He pulls from his cigarette, then continues: "Must've been awful, to have a little sister tell you she can get that mob to succeed anytime."
"Nerube, how you know that stuff ..." I ask him. "Grace was only a kid and Rose was only a teenager."
"Irby told me."
A reporter uses the grocery aisles to peek around at me working, but then I accidentally step up behind him, him still peeking around a corner. “He's really smart though … “ Jason Bateman is saying. “I respect what he put out,” Matt Damon is saying back. “But not the rest of him.” I keep trying to tell Ray how kismet it seemed that all the times I had been on a plane it had been this plane, flown by him, always going to the Florida homestead. Despite the environment I cannot say this to Ray as he pilots beside me because I know it is not true.
I stay at Grandma and Grandpa's homestead for weeks, awakening each morning to feed and water the animals and plants, warm the stove, start the coffee, then pick ripe fruits and flowers before stepping into their indoor greenhouse, making sure they've awaken and have made it to their thrones on a stage in the greenhouse at the end of a long, red carpet littered with fallen flower pedals and leaves. While Grandma samples a tray of nearby homemade perfumes Grandpa keeps trying to tell me, “He thinks you have no love.”
Each night I work as a milkman at the grocery except it is the huge building and parking lot of the general store of my adolescence. Inside are all the female relatives, each wearing carefully chosen outfits under their aprons and not-quite-blonde versions of brunette hairstyles. To my relief they pretend not to know me, turning up their expressions and spinning away like actresses doing ballet. A celebration begins in the parking lot full of amusement park events: whole buildings made of air-filled plastic, employees, and large groups of children attended by chaperones. Tonight as Ray flies me to work in the dust-cropper, he is suddenly gone, the full moon my only source of light while the plane glides toward the ground in smaller and smaller circles.
Though the dash of the plane is of a worn seventies Mustang I glide one circle after another, frightened to land with no power. The plane hits the parking lot like a car swinging into a parking space. Angry and haughty for the interruption, both sisters and Aunt Karen are waiting as I exit the plane flushed with good luck and sudden accomplishment. I keep trying to explain how I managed all the way to the ground without taking anyone out, nor poking any buildings with wings.
I wake soaked in sweat despite the cool air of an open window, shower, and catch the van to the downtown grocery.
Late that night, behind the store, Montana finds me sneaking a cigarette. Hot with anger, he tries to explain to me how his yearly evaluation keeps being delayed now that it has come out that most other employees have been started out at a much higher wage than what he makes, despite his being promoted, work-wise, long past them.
“It's my fault,” I tell him, us standing against the wall side-by-side. “I encouraged performance without telling you to protect yourself.”
“You didn't go to HIGH-school,” he says, with resignation. “It's been like this all along – principals, teachers, coaches giving preference to some, shitting on others, one story coming out after another. It will never change.”
"It was none of my business."
"I'm a millennial, one of the LOST GENERation?" he yells through a fit of street-light and shadows to my left as he punches the grocery's outside, concrete wall in flurry. "I know I'm only a commodity," he says, turning back toward me, his bony countenance hidden by golden-lit cigarette smoke. "I can't have nice clothes or people look at you like you're corrupt. You can't have a nice car, or it's the same. No house with no white picket fence. What the F_CK, Chuck?"
Near end of shift I smoke a cigarette with the night manager while walking her to her old Camry “... Remember when he was watching your laptop at the coffeehouse," she's saying. "When I accidentally paged you to the front during your break?”
“Hey … " I tell her. "If a comedian has to be able to stay straight in order to do comedy, and an actor has to be able to lie, then a writer would already be able to – ”
“I saw him steal something off of it -- he had a flash-drive.”
She turns and faces me as if she has no time for jokes. She always looks at me as if I were some tragic lover-boy so brave to choose only true love, too cowardly to take the lead.
“My existence alone destroys his civilization,” I reply quick. "I have bigger problems –Brit—I'm telling you– it is already impossible for the writings to be – plagiarized.”
“How is it whenever you say 'bosslady,' Montana thinks you're talking about me?”
“I thought Capitalism was crazy because it required human character--”
“--hopefully we're the exception, Dakota.”
“Yeah, right,” he says. “You've got something to do with this bookstore.”
We pull up in his new car, an Eighties boxy sedan, him smiling, me hiding in his “too-big-for-me” hoodie. He exhales, watching yuppie pedestrians walk the sidewalk under dusk. He looks like he was born in God's Country, while having features that help him pass for a wiry surfer dude with short, blonde hair. He tends to wear form-fitting skater-clothes. He always treats me incredulously, ever since he started at the grocery.
“I go in, see if the book is there. If not, ask the blonde if it has been sold, she'll ask if I'm the author, I say no I work for the publisher, she gives me the envelope, then we go to kinko's, or whatever that place is called.”
“Quick, because I gotta meet Montana.”
“Yeah, I've gotta get to church,” he says. “Wait – I thought I was Montana.”
“First of all,” Isaac says, smooth and easy-loud with an almost-deepness that might sound like certainty. “Why you like that; why not walk into a room with a little aggression.”
“Aggression,” I say.
He always seems to be playing the best music, most of which I've never heard. “It's because it's the music you've been listening to your whole life,” he is saying.
“Thing is,” Isaac says later, as we are sitting around his dining table over dice being rolled. His wife and five children are already asleep in rooms down a dark hallway.
I met Isaac by accident, not realizing that Daniel already knew his neighbors. “Never seen a redneck Latino before,” I said to Daniel. “He's Native American,” Daniel replied.
“You're liable to pull in a hot babe, maybe a knockout,” Isaac continues.
I blush. Ashley, Daniel's half-Native friend laughs. She looks like every young girl who ever served me food in Oklahoma. We are all of similar ages. Ashley has had major surgeries concerning Scoliosis since she was four but one could never tell. Isaac finds Daniel to be one of his best friends.
“As I understand it this is a tribe and you're the tribal leader … “ I say.
“Okay!” Isaac exclaims with a laugh. “First, let's drink on that.”
“It's comments like that--” he continues, but then Ashley and Daniel laugh, so he laughs too, heavy and laid back.
I rise as Isaac rises to get another beer. I hand one to Isaac in his dark kitchen lit by the refrigerator.
“Have I ever offended you,” Isaac says quietly.
“No,” I reply. “I doubt it.”
“You keep secrets.”
Outside, Ashley smokes alone for awhile. “Pain,” she tells me. “It got old. Made the future seem impossible and kept me – angry.” She pulls on her cigarette, looking out across the night sky from Isaac's front porch, her silhouette tall, defiant. “So when I was fifteen I flushed my useless meds and began a – drug phase.”
Inside, they are talking about “The Green Mile,” a film I still have not gotten all the way through. “The gay guy … “ I ask.
“The French actor,” Ashley says.
“No, the one who kills the mouse.”
“Oh, he's not gay,” she replies with an inquisitive laugh.
“I'm turning into a Wilton,” I say, leaning Charlie Brown.
Later, Isaac and I are smoking cigarettes outside alone.
“You always manage to be in the shadows,” Isaac says toward me. “What you a coywolf --”
#487439 - 08/23/15 03:25 AM
Re: O) Fall
Loc: American South
Montana's hours were cut awhile back and can do little about it but find a second job. I am to either open my availability all the way and accept an “official” full-time job, or keep accepting only twenty-hours a week, instead of the usual forty. The hours were cut due to “Obama Care,” says the manager.
“Do I agree as a manager that a person who is in a situation with a parent or kids who needs health insurance should therefore be given the full time slot as opposed to the person who earned it?” he says. “And now that person must scrape by on only twenty-eight hours? No. Do I feel for all those young people now forced to have health insurance who now can't afford to see a doctor when they need one because the only health insurance they could afford was catastrophic? Very much so."
“You think God isn't doing what is best for your life?” he asks with that smile that looks both mischievous and overconfident. He looks the opposite of whom he truly is, so I never really met him until we realized we both knew Irby. Others here comment to Nerube that Seldom Seen lights up and acts completely different if I'm talking to him. Last week he was a passionate atheist interested in the exact structure of the universe. He always has big dreams, seems easily bored, lively, oddly impatient with the indecisive. Nerube tells me his life as if nothing has ever gone wrong and he is as good as everyone. I tell him he could get away with the whole thing if maybe he changed his perception of himself, like how Matt Damon looks into a dresser's mirror with the look of a football quarterback as he plays The Talented Mr. Ripley.
“The changes may be painful, worrisome, and a lot of trouble,” he says, his thin gold necklace twinkling streetlight. “But he is doing his best for you always.”
Brock always stands and moves and sleeps with a certain innocence. It's only when his voice is raised dealing with some situation in the main house that you pick up on the opposite. “Well someone saw something.”
“Some publisher of an anonymous author who isn't me.”
Guys workout to the point it's hard not to wonder a joke. Maybe guys like Brock had to get their confidence back up as quickly as possible for survival or great undertaking. Some guys can do it, I figure, because they're not competing with each other.
“Skits ... ” he says as statement.
Sometimes he accidentally inspires someone to handle things a similar way, thinking maybe they are as good, but they're never quite Brock. Outside, the air has turned cold and wet, as heavy, mist-like clouds descend across the mountain spurs. We move to close the windows. In these mountains you could swear you experienced all four seasons in one day. Word is, Brock's “gullible.” I only picked up on it once. Several men above his rank seem to have sway over his moment-to-moment opinion, but Brock's character tends to outrank theirs. Once, I stepped into the house-manager's office to catch-a-ride and the female drivers were there, treating him well, while he threw back playful, verbal-barbs in a pleased, 'aw-shucks' manner. He doesn't understand I had no choice but to strike on my own. People thought the work had been accomplished by a human writing about a classically autistic who thought he was human. The set-up of the story alone is considered comedy gold. All the major American networks agree and want dibs while Hollywood insists on a film. Others find the concept of a classically autistic having been proven human so profound they consider it novel.
"At most it'll be a terrible tragedy," I tell him.
“It doesn't even have a title,” he says.
But I don't think I should help anymore,” one genius alien – semi-human with blue skin – says to another genius alien – a slime covered semi-caterpillar, in the animated film, “Escape from Planet Earth,” 2013. They are about to attempt escape from Area 51 where they are being forced to invent things like the internet, high definition television, smart phones and the most powerful weapon in the universe. The non-geniuses have been frozen alive and are kept in storage.
“Are you getting paranoid?” replies the semi-caterpillar. “It happens to the best of us. You're really smart, then you start thinking too much, then you start getting paranoid.”
A group of teenage boys who work at the store seem over-concerned about my social status. Within the group, status changes constantly for a myriad of irrelevant reasons. I ignore them despite their offers of friendship because they are all actually in their twenties, so their voices and body language come across as bizarre and sad. They mutter “impotent” every chance they get because I do not seem to date. Supposedly they only want to know how fine a competitor I am; they only want information. Standing up to someone has always been the easiest way to make a friend, but I have already met them and do not fall for that trick either.
Finally, as Montana is helping me block dairy, one of their members accosts me, slyly talking locker-room while mentioning as many of my friends as possible. He looks like a tall, brunette elf, and has the reputation for saying “Word on the street is … “ as if he is the word on the street due to his gossiping and text-messaging.
I turn away from my work and tell him “I'm African-American, dyslexic, castrated, homosexual, and illiterate. 'You got some sort of problem with that?”
Apparently the last sentence is heard six aisles down by Brit, not to mention's Montana's laugh, so she splits us up. I cashier while Montana bags. He talks about the show “New Girl” due to Zooey Deschanel. He doesn't watch “The Mindy Project” though it comes on right after and the protagonists' attitudes and situations are similar. Each show airs on Fox, a network that has already sent their line: "At least someone's making money off of it."
“If I wanted to watch a gay-bashing feminist," I tell him. "I'd turn on 30Rock."
“Read your novel,” Larke says later, as I walk past Video.
Maybe he knows he was caught by Brit; maybe his opinion of me is so low he doesn't care.
“It's like you told the truth so well you never had to tell the truth at all.”
"I FOUND you," he says in his quickly-walking rush throughout the empty, main rooms of the house. "Did I not find you? Tell me I didn't find you."
No point in following him around, no one else is in the house. If I follow, he'll check out the house and my expression. Used to be teenagers were slight and fleeting, a whole fresh culture in an instant. Then the pre-teens started being teenagers on purpose, then didn't know what to do as teenagers. Now they are unreadable, that fresh, that intelligent. So far his ideals seem awfully high, his philosophy more an addiction to true things.
"You know the woods are haunted all around here," he calls to me from a hallway of bedrooms; I can almost see him flicking his brown hair every so often like a teenage Justin Bieber. "Turn a bend and some Civil War soldier is standing there, looking at you. 'Never made it all the way to the house before. Got to take the last part by foot," he says louder now, reentering the parlor.
Whenever he acts this happy, he is likeable.
“Yeah, you must drive through the entrance.”
It also means something in his life has recently gone wrong.
With Montana standing looking-out into the shadows, I accept his dare and race into the woods north of the house where two hills meet and form a small, drying creek. With a too-big shovel, I quick, plant the corn kernels with a piece of salmon as the thunderstorm claps and strikes.
I see the woman standing there watching me in a yellow-cloth coat and stop. The woods separating the house from the rest of Rustic swing, the treetops swaying above us as I stand up all the way. "It's only that a few multi-billion dollar conglomerates will come after me."
Her laughter splits the rain and wind; the storm lifts, only the swaying tree tops above dripping water.
"It's all very serious actually."
As I help Nerube move into his new room, he tells me how when he called home his dad picked up instead. As he give the tour of his new first-floor room, he talks abstractly of his mother and his childhood. His room has no bunks, but two regular beds instead, windows that open, and a door and porch at the end of the hall that sticks out the middle of a steep hill looking out onto the valley and the mountain peaks across with their icy clouds hovering. I want to tell him my mother was born autistic and does not know it. I wonder about her still carrying the cross of being bullied by her parents, then her siblings, then her daughters, as Dawn battled through cycles of depression while keeping her faith in God despite others’ over-education on such matters.
“Jacob thinks you'll be President one day,” he tells me with the usual excited twinkle in bright, brown eyes.
I lean against his wall, then look away from him as he continues setting up his half of the room.
“I think Hollywood could make you famous,” he says. “'Cause the show goes on come hell or high-water.”
Outside his window, clouds move across the moon, maybe an hour after a bright red and orange sunset. Rain coming in.
“Brock thinks people are going to start walking up to you, trying to give you medals.”
“Nerube ... no one wants any of those things to happen.”
“He's taller than me,” Dakota says.
With his one black-eye and one spring-green Levis stands maybe 5',6” inches tall, bony-skinny, has a triangle-of-a-chin, and if-shaven, looks maybe-nineteen. He hails from a small, Christian town in the mountains, crippled by methe and legal. He always looks hopeful, if not haggard. If he's shaved and wearing his Deli cap, he looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell.
“His brother's a real mess,” Dakota says. “He's the one everyone's afraid of.”
The most famous story in Iraq, point-of-view, was of the four-man-squad who took a building. Three continue inside while one watches the door. “You needed crazy-eyes,” they always said.
“The Ivy Leagues do not feed off the middle class,” I tell them. “Same as lions do not feed off limping gazelles, same as the educated do not feed off the uneducated, and the strong do not feed off the weak. Our civilization is 'ADVAnced,'”
“I don't believe you,” Levis says.
“It's a tabloid, right?” Montana says.
“It's The Wall Street Journal.”
“The guy who kept snapping pictures while Princess Diana bled out.”
“He bugged the nine-eleven families.”
“More like … he would have.”
“He's credited for the technique of encouraging low-self esteem right in time for commercials. It's why the fictional characters in the fictional worlds always have spectacular sex lives. It's how they sell their ideas.”
“Actually, it-girls had already begun doing that to their own gender.”
“We learned about it in high-school,” he says. “My teacher said he can probably get away with it as long as he never markets to adolescents.”
“Overall, he's right about Arabia, Persia, and the Middle East, though.”
During the trial run, Dakota drives while Levis watches the road.
“Maybe you're already in the habit of defending Clintons,” Levis says.
Levis knows history in an effortless, up-to-date way that never seems hard-earned – “highschool,” he tells me.
Through a slit in Dakota's dark, wool blanket, Ashe speeds by in pastel colors and twinkling lights. Levis never wears denim, but Dakota wears his Dad's old blue-jean jacket, a relic from before they went metro; the edge of its collar shows above his headrest.
“Do you think President Clinton's a genius?” says Dakota.
“Let's say both me and Mozart hear Bill Clinton utter the word 'genius.' We'd both receive the same information, even though I'm not a genius.”
“All celebrities know how to say is: You know you want to be exactly like us," I tell Nerube after running into him in Rustic's parking lot. "No one would let Hollywood anywhere near their family.”
“You sure they know that?” he asks as we walk toward the smoker's gazebo. "They said Jake Gyllenhaal laughed when he found out you never had any intention of selling. He said: 'Let the HUnt begin!'"
"... yeah," I tell him. "He was on Charlie Rose. You should have seen the one with Mindy Kaling."
"It was the government who changed that word in Elise from 'play' to 'screenplay' wasn't it," Nerube asks as we step into the shelter and pull cigarettes from our packs.
Among other things. Sure, the totem pole of American civilization remains the same: at the bottom, grunts, then enlisted, then officers, then, at the top, civilians, the vast majority being working poor, busy with the war effort, the rest busy disproving the concept of capitalism to the rest of the world, while their present leader, having been caught censoring, attacks his people’s rights. I don't answer Nerube, hoping he'll let it go. The President deciding on his own that he was my editor remains a terrible mistake. He proved why social media should not be censored. He proved it self-evidently online for everyone to witness.
“I like how the reader has no choice but to defend your relatives,” Nerube says.
Sometimes I look Nerube in the eyes and it's like he relishes being in an intrigue, like he's excited about events to come.
"Yeah, me too ..."
Yesterday in the chow hall I caught him looking at me from across the room with an expression like he was counting on me to remain. He looked away like he didn't want me to catch him in my peripheral.
"NeRUBIE -- this guy Robert taught me how to con: get the person to objectify you, catch the stereotype, and make sure never to accidentally disprove it," I insist to him as he gapes at me, his eyes searching my face with a part-smile because he's braced in case I'm joking. "If you can't do that, Nerube, you won't survive. You get in trouble, you remember me telling you this."
He swallows carefully, straightens his neck and posture: "Have you ever done that with me?"
“I've been watching TV,” Montana says lowly as he cashiers and I bag.
“Careful not to rot your brain.”
"I watched the last season of 30Rock."
Usually, we talk girls. Most of the time when he turns a girl down, they try to call him gay, despite the obvious, while whenever I turn a girl down she immediately diagnoses me, complete with references and bibliography. Lately, we can only talk about girls to each other because otherwise girls try to trick you into sleeping with them while guys turn out to be desperately competing with you the whole time. The customers look at Montana like he's hope for the future. Their eyes light up when he engages them. They treat him like people treated preacher's kids in Wilton. There's a reason why everyone knows Montana, but he rarely talks about it.
“They're trying to hijack your soul,” he is saying.
His eyes should be blue, they're so piercing, but they're brown with flecks of hazel. I hand off a cart of bagged groceries to an elderly woman who goes to Montana's church.
“They’re only trying to exploit me.”
“You've got to fight them,” he says.
“But I don't want to be a pirate.”
“It's better for my daughter here,” Lyndsay is saying, as Marcus sits back down beside her. She still has the same long, straight blonde hair, still boy-crazy as if there was such a thing as whatever she sees in them.
I'm not the best at the grill, so I have no future here. It's hilarious the ones who can handle thirty steaks at one time – one was a homeless-teenager type, lives the good life now, flipping steaks the only thing he'd had to offer at the time.
“I like the structure here,” she says. “My daughter will still be raised within a cautionary tale, sure ...”
My cooking is preferred, otherwise, and Tango's kitchen never stresses that I am one of the few who does not speak Spanish. Late at night I work as a bartender, helping with downtown Ashe's after-show crowd.
“Father's farther away, plus mine, but everything's better.”
Jacob and Brock sit in the round booth in a corner of the dark restaurant. I felt it best to ask forgiveness instead of permission. They must've left a meeting; there are several regular ones downtown due to Church St., an old landmark-of-a-street nearby.
“Marco asks about you,” Marcus says.
Back then, concerning Marco, it was like I stole Marcus's best friend, his comedy and curiosity was so sharp, vibrant, and genuine. It was only when I left Wilton that Marco leaned toward the majority again. He once called me his marriage counselor, his best friend and confidant.
“In Washington D.C., we were all best friends,” Lyndsay is saying. “How's it ever going to be like that again?”
Long ago, in Lyndsay's trailer, I tried to explain to them in some drunken, disjointed, tangent-filled stream of what it was like, my sisters referencing the assault as proof I was gay, my father's same expression: guilt, indignation, fury. Only in my old age do I see they were playing a game based in love for me.
Outside, on a cigarette break, as the usual college crowd hoops and hollers their way through the front door around the corner, there's Brock smiling at me as he exhales smoke. “Skits ... ”
He looks at me half-curious.
“Brock, I thought it would last forever.”
An unexpected crowd formed due to a high-school basketball game. Ashe hasn't won like this in several years. The restaurant is trashed, music blasts, and young girls with little work-force experience run around in drama.
“Come on ...” she says, pulling my hand in the crowd. “Dance with me.”
“Noll ... I'm working.”
Billie Holiday sings the blues slow and soft for a long time, her emotions symbolic, her point of view infusing.
“I'm dating again,” she whispers nonchalantly.
On the van ride back to Rustic, Brock drives, due to River being on his two-day monthly pass. He doesn't mention the restaurant, even though he picks me up from the grocery, my having freshly changed into the appropriate uniform. Once the van clears out of passengers, and Brock heads for the interstate, we sit in silence.
“Their technique is to say something intelligent, then something locker room, then intelligence, then locker-room,” I tell him as streetlights along the way sweep over us. “I wake up one morning and out of nowhere the whole industry is threatening me. They want the writings, or else.”
“Play back,” he says.
“It would degrade the work,” I tell him. “Anyway, when the opponent plays the bully card, it means it’s the last card they have left.”
The night sky remains heavy with clouds, hunkering in against the mountain tops, then spreading out, like paintbrush strokes of grays and blues sliced and illuminated by lightning strikes. Light rain begins as signs appear, approaching Rustic. After ramping off the interstate, Brock navigates the mountain roads in silence. Pulling into Rustic, Nerube waits for me in the make-shift parking lot. “It's like the Bible's yelling at me,” I tell him but he seems lost in thought. “Psalm ninety-one, Romans twelve, one through three. James two, seven through nine. Yelling.”
“You made the world a better place,” Brock says as if to no one, parking. “They're never going to let you get away with that.”
After slammed doors and commotion in the front of the house, Brock finds me sitting Indian-style on my bunk, the Sunday New York Times spread out across the bed.
“What's wrong?” he asks me with his easy smile. In his church baseball uniform he looks like one of those teammates in old Joe DiMaggio photographs.
“I still don't know what they want ...” I tell him.
He raises his right brow inquisitively. Outside the window behind his head rain pours, hitting the tin roof above us like tiny hail.
“Someone should hand them an Oscar,” says Nerube.
“You're sure they weren't trying to make the novel worse on purpose?” Brock asks in his grainy auto.
“If you look at what went down,” I tell him. “It's a distinct possibility.”
"Make the whole thing non-fiction," Nerube blurts out. "Win once and for all."
"I could end up stalked, Nerube."
“And there's no way it could've been mistaken for an audition," Brock asks.
“Commercialized media works against the victim, or any one susceptible. That's it's design. They know that."
Meanwhile Dakota and Levis have seemed stressed concerning my future. (“There are bribes around,” someone said, as if to the other.
“When something valuable's around,” Dakota then said, over wind blasting and Levis rolling up his passenger window against the rain. “It attracts the worst people.”
“You should have found a woman before this happened,” Levis said turning toward the backseat, his black-eye half-healed. “Now what are you going to do?”)
Nerube sits down beside me as Brock sits on the opposite bunk as we continue, Brock looking at us in that way he has of being consistent and regular to the point you might catch yourself thinking you could see through him, while giving up accidental expressions as he looks back and forth between Nerube's eyes and mine.
“Brock," I hear Nerube say. "They stole from charity and left huge digital footprints.”
Supposedly The Wall Street Journal said I had 'grit,' The New York Times' literary section considered me a colleague, not a subordinate, the BBC said the work was "well managed," and SportsCenter said “He's Toouugh! That's for sure.” Journalists have left my relatives alone, despite vetting them all and finding each “Particularly clean, especially Grace,” but still attempt to reach bigger fish through me. Amazingly, no one exposed the underground railroad, even when not doing so went against all their previous behavior.
“They went after some guy on an online support group,” Nerube is saying. “There are no rules now.”
Isaac walks quickly in front, guiding us lugging our swim gear through his reservation as he tells of how it is his family owns a mountain. Somewhere there is a watering hole that marks the spot of a bootlegger's stash.
“How you know how to do that?” he asks, turning to face us.
“What … “ Ashley says casual, mean, slowly trailing her bare toes against the forest floor as Daniel leans against a tree, flushed.
“No. Not you,” Isaac says to Ashley while looking and pointing at me. “Someone's steps aren't making noise.”
In a shack-of-a-juke joint are all cedar walls and cabinetry, pinewood chairs and pool tables played under different clouds of cigarette smoke.
“Bootleggin' somethin', ain't it ...” Isaac is saying as we find a spot and Ashley nods hello to minglers as several ask of her sisters and brother.
“No, no,” Ashley keeps laughing as I speak to her friends. “No, no.”
After sneaking back, Montana's way, Nerube is waiting for me with a worried look and a cell phone he's not supposed to have. Soberly, he dials it, then hands it to me. “I have contacts, see?” he says quietly.
“They're vetting you,” Irby says through the phone, as Nerube leans against the wall by the door, in his usual spot as lookout. He looks back and forth from the hallway to me.
“Who...” I say, cupping my hand around the receiver end and turning away from Nerube.
“Remember how you could hear a lie, even though the hodgie was speaking a foreign language? You could even point out people on television.”
“No wonder you had skills no one had ever seen before."
Turning from the buffet toward the open counter of the kitchen, I wait for Rustic's real-world-powerful chef to add cobbler to my tray. I notice his tears as he looks at me.
“I don't understand,” I say to him.
“Only it's the extraordinary change,” he replies. “It's like mourning.”
“Yes,” I tell him, turning my head to look out the windows. “It's the mornings that are so great.”
"It's like you brought pure evil to our State," Nerube says as we share a cigarette before work. "New York. D.C., L.A."
"Nerube, I'm from New York."
“In the military,” Larke says over the video counter. “You never noticed a connection? Forty years isn't much compared to American culture.”
“At this point their only impact would be negative, and at best fleeting.”
Larke's brother was quarterback of a small high school where only all-stars in the local sports paper had much of a future. Larke's argument sounds as generalized and abstract as the idea that women decide the vote because they are the majority.
“The institution of football is beloved,” he says, adjusting his spectacles, then taking them off to wipe the lenses. “Why do you think sportswriters drop names?”
“It can't be forced into manipulating gubernatorial elections.”
"And what about you?”
Inside an office building that is actually an old mansion, her office looks like a living room with three large windows, a wooden desk in the corner, pastel yellow walls, a tan couch, and lavender pillows. I've gotten off work so am still in uniform.
She hands me a cup of coffee.
"What if I accidentally proved to the White House there is no such thing as journalism in America."
"Maybe Obama is not corrupt."
"What of the White House after that," I tell her from the couch. “And the one after that.”
She sips from her navy blue coffee mug, some kind of insurance agency Christmas party. Maybe it wasn't kosher to underhandedly interrogate your therapist upon the first session. She didn't know that once sexually assaulted, macho-talk and locker-room-talk physically sound like jibberish, having fallen away from the English language. She wondered aloud about women assaulted back when macho-vernacular was blatantly sexist, and what it must've been like for those lone women in Egypt, Greece, and Rome to witness whole sentences and conversations disappearing into useless sounds.
"How serious are you …" she asks discreetly.
"Precedents could be set."
As Ashe's spring slowly moves up the mountains, its downtown blooms colors against a wind wisping pollen. I take a short cut behind the art-deco, downtown-storefronts where old, abandoned houses stand claim to overgrown yards with crumbling barns.
The first set of doors is incorrect, so with surprise I fling the next set open and rush into a small, beige waiting room with displays of pamphlets and posters on the walls encouraging consumer self-protection. The receptionists' window is bullet proof but they can still hear through the slit at the bottom.
"... It's a posting on an online support group," I find myself telling them. "I promised to keep it there and have protected it over the years. They're threatening to slander my name if I don't write a particular scene. Tina Fey's lawyer called my dad to threaten my parents. NPR threatens me every morning. State television threatens me every evening and Charlie Rose does the same each night. Sportscenter has a crowd waiting at the library all day to harass me whenever I sit down at a computer. The librarians have to walk over and tell them to shut up. CBS made a show called Scorpions, then got caught, then sent The Good Wife after me. The government keeps trying to delete things and add things to it so I have to check it everyday, even repost. I know I'm in the civilian world and am not considered human--"
"Hmmmph!" exclaims the receptionist on the left, implying her brown-hued skin.
"I've survived more almost-lynchings than you and two of them were by all blacks. You wanna compare notes?"
"State television ..." asks the receptionist on the right, a small, petite thirty-something.
"Government television," the other answers her. "PBS."
"All because you won't write the scene," asks the one on the right as she takes down names and numbers to confirm my story. Her worried countenance keeps a look as if all remains hopeless.
"... somehow they found out I could see through man-made things--"
"--Surprised you aren't dead already," the woman on the left deadpans, raising an eyebrow at my expression. She wears a pastel-yellow suit with a necklace of small pearls. She slowly takes her glasses off and folds them in front of her so as to look up at me squarely. "The wealthy have to learn to read and write, then go to school, then college to even have the ability to wrap their brains around such a concept as seeing through all man-made things. Whenever they are reminded that the illiterate, working-poor always had that ability -- nothing frightens them more."
By the time back from legal-aid, the passages are adjusted. I had tried once before to keep readers from self-satisfying themselves to it, but they found the passage Egon Schiele. Maybe President Obama thought it fair, him censoring at-will years after my writing such a purposefully-vulgar passage. I had arrived back from deployment and wanted no readership for a long while, so the passage was particularly murderous.
In the therapist's office, using her laptop, I place them, then tell her of the weeping willow and the pond at its base and how the white crane flew indifferent above the violence as the back of my head hit road. For some reason I thought of Grandma Morris as the wings slowly flapped, like she was saying, "THIS is the world."
"You understand..." the therapist begins from where she sits upright on her tan couch, her legs crossed, one over the other, a lavender pillow behind her. Her eyes look up and away as if she's trying to find the words. "You're having survived--"
"Thank you for your trouble," I mutter, grabbing my bag.
She follows me to her office door. "LISten to me," she calls as she follows me out her shop's main door and out into the stairwell. "It can only make you that much MORE American," she continues, her heels clicking rapidly from behind and above as I bound flights. "You do understand ..."
Sometimes Montana speaks to me in the back where he'll catch me smoking a cigarette. “... So they have him step up to the mike, to ask his question toward the stage,” he whispers to me in the dark behind the dumpster. “He turns to the audience of the civic center, looks to the highest balcony down to the bull pen, then points to the stage and asks loud: 'Why do we not believe him?' And the entire audience – one-thousand and seventy-three people all stand up and say 'Because he is a politician.' And the guy then points to the back wall where the cameras and reporters are and he asks loud: 'And why do we not believe them?' and the people says: 'Because they are journalists.' Despite the police, security, and secret service, the people refused to yield where they stood until all the politicians, business-people and reporters had been escorted off the property … ”
In the grocery some know, some do not. No one says anything but for dirty looks and laced comments to each other. Every morning Cooke silently prepares and hands me her three dollar breakfast plate with her right eye wet with the same tear – something to do with me. Butcher has no lewd-ish jokes or otherwise, nor any Vietnam anecdotes, nor comments on women. He looks me in the face wide-eyed and distant. Gardner, in produce, looks at his feet a lot, like he's trying to shuffle away.
Average, ten customers a day aren't real customers. They lean in as they pull merchandise and whisper, "Nig__," or "Bitc_" or "Cun_." Many get their kids to hiss the words instead. At least once a day, it will be an old man in a veteran's cap. Other times it's regular older men telling me they've seen me here and there around town, trying to imply they are pervs. Had no time to be literary about standing up for written word so co-workers keep a supply of critical comments.
Sometimes Dakota speaks to me while cleaning the latrines because we will suddenly find ourselves alone. "The creepy guy with the glasses watching you all morning and writing in that notebook while he sat at Starbucks," he says. "That was a guy working for the radio stations." Dakota remains the latest blonde-blue-eyed, close-friend I've made by surprise -- all, I figure, due to Van. "Daniel and Issac both took bribes from Comedy Central. They told me if you didn't sell to the industry, the industry would destroy your reputation same as they did Dave Chappelle. That's how it works. They also said if the government decides your last chapter isn't ludicrous enough, they'll have you committed. If you imply there is a such thing as freedom, the novel will immediately be banned. If you allude to some idea that writing has some other purpose than making money, the conglomerates will lobby the government to ban the novel. I know they've already sicked the tabloids on you, mainly The View and The Talk." He makes a move with the hose he's using so as to not have to touch any of the commodes. "Mine's WAAAY better," he says, smiling innocent mischief. "Hey, and when you walk by a government plant you involuntarily cut and roll your eyes -- you gotta stop doing that. And Montana -- now that might really be government."
Whenever I step through the library all the kids' names are 'ben,' even the girls as the storybook reader changes the protagonist's name to 'ben,' even when the main character is a girl. The librarians look worried and confused but not as if they need explanation from me. They watch from their counters as I use one of their computers, making comments on any paragraphs or sentences I might be working on. All use a tone as if they're rolling their eyes, only doing it with their voices instead. They never comment on watching me CTRL-F "a play" in Elise every day, if not twice a day, then open other chapters, making similar checks. Between metadata and the witness stand, all remains self-evident.
“ ... They buy all the magazines with celebrities on the cover, all in one crowd,” Montana whispers to me later in the otherwise-empty latrine. “As another group buys all the newspapers inside and outside all the shops. As still another group buys all the magazines with any business-people on the covers. Then walk to the drum circle where the three fires have been lit. The police arrive telling them they cannot have bonfires here in the middle of downtown. They lock their elbows and form three wide circles around each fire as the ones inside throw the newspapers on one fire and the magazines on the other two while yelling over and over that the journalists were never journalists, the writers were never writers, the celebrities only made-up people all along, while the business-people were criminals and all are to blame for what has happened--“
"--I know about the workplace petition, Montana," I tell him.
He says nothing for a long time, looking at my face, his always-fierce eyes leaning to kindness, then to anger, then kindness, as seconds tick.
"But you're non-human," he protests angrily. "And you learned how to read and write--Just because you didn't know you were classically autistic doesn't mean -- Whatever it was about you that tempted someone to sexually assault you -- that's on you--"
"--Montana, I can't undo learning how to read and write, even if learning how was illegal--"
"--that you were sexually assaulted should've been proof to you that you weren't human--"
"Montana ... I know your name isn't on it."
"The journalists knew you were going to accidentally prove their trade secret," Dakota says as he cleans the employees-only latrines. I lean against the wall in between the two doors, each propped open by a metal trash can. "That's why when you turned down payoffs they called you anti-American. Then when you turned down bribes they called you a terrorist."
The President seems to have gotten away with the censorship of social media: in the future, the reader can watch his twenty-fifteen State of the Union, any public statement by Secretary of State John Kerry from now til then, and think about it. Unfortunately I remain moved by the Holy Spirit whether I want to be or not. The most obvious censorship remains the ten dots that were at the end of this chapter, I guess implying the novel's end. I do not know why the rich and powerful went after a regular joe, or why the mainstream would approve, but have yet to lose faith in the American spirit.
Dakota sprays Lysol inside through the cracked door of one bathroom, making a face and smiling with a shake of his head. "According to them it's easy for them to make the case because for you to have survived them you must have become violent and a terrorist -- had to have -- because if they had survived themselves they would've become terrorists ... At least, that's how it was explained to me--"
"--Another thing that doesn't makes any sense is that you were put under government surveillance because on Halloween night you proved to yourself that you were under government surveillance--"
"--it's not about the novel," I tell him. "It's about what I've witnessed."
"Yeah!" he says quick. "That does make more sense 'cause I read that novel. It wasn't that good."
He pauses in his movements, setting his paper towel on a nearby stack of boxes, looking at me like he wants to acknowledge the intimacy between us all, an intimacy I cannot afford. The federal operations have a lot to do with a well-researched childhood. Whatever designated as "the worst" is zeroed-in-on, replicated. Mostly it is my sisters, lines of theirs, while female librarians try to play the decrepit, mother-hag role, trying to insult my mother, while all use that same roll-of-the-eyes done vocally instead: a throwback to God's Country and the moments and days and months and years post sexual assault. Another dehumanization tactic is molestation. As the customer grabs the item, she passes her hand upward over my buttocks. "You can never tEEELLLllle," she says, turning her disastrously-overweight, thirty-something form toward the chip aisle and flicking her long blonde hair. "That's straight from President Obama," she calls out. "Who IS god. Proven in written word online, self-evidently, with the entire world as witness." Then she laughed, turning her hanging-skin-face back toward me: "Can't you read your own journalized short stories?"
"You realize you're being systematically tortured by the American people," Dakota says, his blue eyes going wide, like he doesn't know what is more important: the fact that something interesting is going on or the fact of what he said.
I nod return.
"One day you'll forgive us."
Last night, after explaining to her Montana's way, then predicting the right time, I waited in the room until I heard a certain branch against window. “Nicer place than before,” she commented, trailing her fingertips against the enormous dresser, the foot-board of the sleigh bed, the glass doors of the shower-tub, the surface of the Bombay desk, then sat on the beige couch as if to test it. She rose and stepped up to me standing in the door of the latrine, ran her finger down my forehead, then my nose. (“Maybe you've been Cleopatra's offspring all along,” she said to me once.) Somewhere in the violence of nature's throbs she knows me again before later slipping away as I slept.
“I've never met anyone in more trouble than you, Skits,” Brock said this morning after he closed my door behind him, surprised to see me standing with snow as if I'd just arrived. He wears a black beanie, his short brown hair showing behind the ears. He slips his hands in the pockets of the Carhartt he likes, the movement sounding like sand-paper. He moves heavy and slow, his work-boots silent against carpet, stepping into the latrine then stepping out, handing me a towel so as to dry melting snow.
“Jacob seems to be on to you,” he says. “How'd you steal away?”
"Heeyah!!" says a coworker, pulling a pallet jack, getting a dairy pallet moving.
Unprecedented. Lead them or fall. Pride comes before the fall. Fight instead of try too hard. Mistakes were made. What a rough start. Never lose clarity; it's what the worldly sarcastically call confidence. Don't bully yourself. Kill them with kindness. If they could lynch, they would. Never forget that.
I wish I was still in the National Guard. I wish I was in the hostel on Lexington. I wish I was at Butler. I miss the friends I've lost -- bad -- like bad blood bad. I wish I could call the next chapter 'Learning Monopoly,' but that would be too mean. I didn't know language had been legally monopolized long before I was born. Apparently no one has ever seen anything done honestly before. Makes me wonder about them.
I remember the bittersweet, laying it down at the swimming hole with Dakota and his girlfriend. River picked me up after, seeming suspicious, him smelling the fresh water of me. The water flowed so cold Dakota refused to get in while Kaitlin and I navigated rocks as steps. The hole was really a large stream six feet deep in some places, less than a foot in others, as the wide stream slowly descended the mountains one small waterfall at a time. Finally I swim as Kaitlin slowly walks across the top of a waterfall, her red hair and black swimming-dress catching the tunnel-like wind competing with warm, afternoon sunlight. Mount Mitchell and Mount Craig tower over us upstream; a valley and the mountain peaks, locally called the seven sisters, wait for us downstream.
Dakota smiles, then rises from where he'd been sitting, then jumps in. He laughs, splashing about as Kaitlin steps in to her waist. "If you could look yourself in the eyes," he says to me, "You wouldn’t look so sad."
Outside the windows, downhill from us, the old man sings of brick and mortar, tapping his foot in the corner of the gazebo. Cold November weather settles in for the night.
“Some list of crimes,” Nerube whispered to me in the gazebo. He passes me his cigarette in the dark. “What happens when they find out you're only the guy who built the -- “
“-- had to go bush on them. Lean toward the history books.”
"Promise me you'll write another chapter," his suddenly sober voice exclaimed, while his neck was bent down, him looking at his feet. "Promise."
“Thing is,” I say to Brock, sitting in the house manager's office, across from his desk as I turn one of Gardner's apples over and over in my hand.
“... I'm thirty-one … ” he has said, after having performed a series of drug tests. “Don't you know by now how you ended up here?”
“It was the right thing to do,” I say suddenly official.
He is speechless, his sage eyes wide, while I stare at him like one of Montana's Civil War ghosts who happened upon him, wondering how it is Brock's blocking my line of sight.
“I don't understand how it was you were honorably dis--”
“--There were no acts of cowardice. Holy sh_t, Brock."
“What about school--Thing about today. Your strategy.”
“Thing about history,” I tell Brock. “The idea of an heir, a good son.”
“Only there is no way to prove it,” he replies slowly, looking at the test cup. “And nothing is to be done.”
“That's their spin on it.”
“Chuck … “ he says, his eyes returning. “I'm sure it is for traditional reasons.”